Female Disruptors: Attorney Rebecca Zung On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

“Stop trying to make not your people your people” — not sure where I heard this first but this is just seriously one of the best pieces of advice ever. Some people just won’t like you, won’t get you, or don’t think what you wanted them to think about you. It’s fine. Wish them well and move on. They aren’t your people. Lots of other people are your people. Just focus on them. I take this advice pretty much every single day.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Zung.

Rebecca Zung is one of the Top 1% of attorneys in the nation, having been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a “Best Lawyer in America”, as “Legal Elite” by Trend Magazine, and recognized by her peers and the judiciary as AV preeminent rated in family law, the highest possible rating for an attorney by Martindale Hubbell. She is the author of the bestselling books, Negotiate Like You M.A.T.T.E.R.: The Sure Fire Method to Step Up and Win (foreword by Robert Shapiro) and Breaking Free: A Step-by-Step Divorce Guide for Achieving Emotional, Physical, and Spiritual Freedom, and is a sought after major media contributor. Her perspectives are in high demand by television and print outlets, as she has been featured in or on Extra, Forbes, Huffington Post, Newsweek, Time, Dr. Drew, NPR Talk Radio, Good Day New York and CBS Los Angeles among others. Now, based in Los Angeles, she is continuing to serve through her very popular YouTube channel, media appearances, podcast, articles and on-demand programs such as S.L.A.Y. Your Negotiation™ with a Narcissist and Breaking Free™ Divorce Masterclasses.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I was married at 19 the first time and had 3 children by the time I was 23. At 29, I found myself divorced and was teaching elementary school in inner city Ft. Lauderdale. As a divorced single mom, I was desperate for a way to feed my kids and put a decent roof over their heads. The only advanced degree program that didn’t require lots of pre-requisites was law school. Luckily, University of Miami had a night school at that time, so I applied and got in. My ex husband watched the kids while I went to school at night. I taught during the day, went and got my kids, helped them with homework, took them to sports and dance, fed them dinner then went to school at night from 7 -10 pm and studied until 2 AM. Then up at 6 AM to do it all again.

I then got a job straight out of law school with a top divorce attorney. I got remarried and had another child too. Then I started my own firm and wrote a bestselling divorce book, which allowed me to do a lot of press. I learned how to negotiate at a mastery level because my entire divorce practice was all high net worth, high conflict cases. In 2019, I wrote a second bestselling book on negotiation. By learning about narcissism, I was able to apply my knowledge of negotiation to narcissists.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I am the only attorney on the planet right now who is giving people real advice on how to negotiate and shift the power dynamic with narcissists. I started discussing this on YouTube early in 2020 and my channel went from zero subscribers to now closing in on 100,000 and nearly 5 million views. My SLAY program is changing lives every day. SLAY stands for S- Strategy; L — Leverage; A — Anticipate; Y- You.

1 in 10. That’s how many people are estimated to be afflicted with narcissistic personality disorder or just simply lack a conscience. 3.4 billion people. That’s how many people are estimated to be victims of narcissists. There is a pandemic of narcissism and no-one is immune. While there are many who are talking about defining narcissists, or what causes narcissism, I give step by step guidance by offering a plan to shift the dynamic of power in dealing with them. It’s time to stop being surprised by narcissists’ behavior and get on the offensive. It’s a power switch. We ALL have to know how to effectively deal with narcissists in everyday life and get what you want.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I am not sure this was a mistake but it was definitely funny. I had taken the bar exam but didn’t have my results yet. My boss, the managing partner of the firm, had asked me to draft a marital settlement agreement, which I had done and he had heavily edited. Then the client was coming in to sign it. My boss said that he would be unavailable but that I could meet with the client, a dentist, and have him sign it. The client signed in front of the paralegal, then she left the room. Thus, the only person with any real knowledge of the process had just left the room. Then, to my horror, the client asked a seemingly innocuous, but to me, deadly question which was “So what happens from here?” My gut dropped out of me. I wanted to say “I have no idea buddy — your guess is as good as mine! I’ve got nothing for you!” But I did not say that. Using large hand gestures for effect so that it would seem I knew what I was doing, I said “Well, um, we will put it all together…. John will review it one more time…. And um…we’ll give you a call!” Then I quickly ushered him out before he could ask any more questions! I remember thinking, wow, 4 years of college, and 3 years of law school, and I knew nothing about the actual practice of law. I often think of that moment because I try to remember to give myself credit on how far I have come since that moment.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My father was my first mentor. He had come from China at 15 and was immediately accepted into Bronx High School of Science, then went on to Columbia Undergraduate and Medical School. He was very loving but also had very high standards for me. My mother, who is German, was very successful in business and was one of the first female real estate brokers in the state of VA. Being Chinese and German, I often joke that I have no fun genes at all. It’s all work hard, be very efficient etc. All kidding aside, my parents taught me the value of hard work, integrity and being the best I can be at whatever I am doing.

My first bosses in the law were also great mentors in a lot of ways. The male managing partner taught me a lot about how to run a law firm and grow a practice. The female partner was a master at marketing. I used to call her the Madonna of family law. She actually gave me a book on my very first day at the law firm called “Women Rainmakers”. I learned so much about how to create, grow and maintain a successful practice.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“People will think what you tell them to think” — my business coach, Kelly Townsend, was working with me while I was setting up my own law practice. I was worried because I had practiced law, then spent a couple of years as a financial advisor (had my Series 7 and 66) and was going back to law. I thought everyone would think I was a flake going back and forth. She said “people will think what you tell them to think” — and then said “you are going to tell them to think that you are the only family law attorney in town that has a financial background, so you are more qualified than everyone else.” So I marketed myself that way and guess what — many people who hired me said that they were hiring me because I was the only attorney in town that had a financial background so they knew I could handle their case better! Go figure!

“Whatever you say, say it with authority and people will believe you” — my dad used to say this all time. Now I use that when I teach about negotiation. I also use this as an example of how narcissists are able to use their voodoo and cast spells on people.

“Stop trying to make not your people your people” — not sure where I heard this first but this is just seriously one of the best pieces of advice ever. Some people just won’t like you, won’t get you, or don’t think what you wanted them to think about you. It’s fine. Wish them well and move on. They aren’t your people. Lots of other people are your people. Just focus on them. I take this advice pretty much every single day.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I want to create SLAY Your Negotiation with a Narcissist for lots of different sectors –

SLAY Your Negotiation with a Narcissist in Business

SLAY Your Negotiation with a Narcissist in Divorce

SLAY Your Negotiation with a Narcissist in Family Relationships

SLAY Your Negotiation with a Narcissist for Teens

Etc

I also want to create a program for lawyers and a network for lawyers who are certified in my SLAY methodology.

I also want to create a non-profit for people to get access to funds for legal representation against narcissists.

I’m also planning a TED talk, a documentary and so much more!

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Women are often not taken seriously especially in business. There really still is a glass ceiling at the very top of the food chain. Even women lawyers are only paid $.70 cents on every male dollars. It’s time we all learn to “negotiate our best lives” (the name of my podcast ☺)

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I read Marianne Williamson’s “A Women’s Worth” when I was about 30. It was so impactful for me — especially the quote that says something like when others are jealous of you or your accomplishments, just turn away and smile and say to yourself “I haven’t even started yet”

I also loved her quote in “A Return to Love” about “our greatest fear” isn’t that we are inadequate but that we are powerful beyond measure….

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

That you can create that power switch and shift the dynamic with anyone.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

That would be the Marianne Williamson quote. I love it because it speaks to how the universe is abundant. We all have access to create the life we want. It is quantum law. We are all stars that can shine. My shine has nothing to do with anyone else’s shine except that if we all shine, we have a gorgeous universe filled with incredible light.

Here’s the full quote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.youtube.com/rebeccazung

https://www.instagram.com/rebeccazung

https://www.facebook.com/rebeccazung

https://www.twitter.com/rebeccazung

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


Female Disruptors: Attorney Rebecca Zung On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Female Disruptors: Ira Kaganovsky Green On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

Trust your gut instinct, sometimes people are not invested in your plan and that is okay. Everyone will have an opinion and you do not have to listen to it. For example, I had male advisors that expressed I needed coaching because I did not always agree with them. When women are strong, they can be labeled as “bitchy”, but when men appear strong, they are labeled as “leaders.” I never understood this theory.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ira Kaganovsky Green.

In 2016 Ira Kaganovsky launched FREEDOM right from her kitchen in honor of her three friends who were diagnosed with breast, and the strong need for a natural deodorant that will keep women healthy AND odor-free.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

When I was 6 years old my family immigrated to the United States from the USSR. I became inspired by the work ethic in America and went on to spend 20 years in finance while being a single mother to my 3 amazing girls.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I became inspired by the health benefits of taking an all-natural approach to what we put on and in our bodies. Many companies include harmful chemicals such as talc and aluminum in everyday products. Continued use of these harmful chemicals has been linked to cancer and other diseases. After my 3 friends were diagnosed with breast cancer, I sought out to find another way to keep women healthy through the use of natural products. As for the name, Freedom by George Michaels is my favorite song, so that was a huge inspiration to me in naming my brand.

Creating all-natural products can be difficult. It takes a lot of trial and error, but that requires determination. I knew eventually we would find the right scent, the right formula, and the best possible results, it just required time and effort. I did not want to have to choose between FREEDOM being effective or good for you. This was a huge concern for me when building the brand. However, we were able to achieve BOTH without comprise, which is why you need FREEDOM in your life!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

I am a firm believer in learning from your mistakes. Without mistakes, we will never grow. Every mistake I have made, and there were many, made me stronger and more knowledgeable. Mistakes are opportunities for me. The best was when I had no idea what a bottom fill was. I thought it was self-explanatory when running a production line, but it cost our first run thousands. Luckily, it was an easy fix and I never made that mistake again!

Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

No question is a stupid question! Always ask questions, the worst thing that can happen is that you learn something, which is pretty awesome to me!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors?

I find a lot of inspiration in podcasts and books. I heavily researched companies that inspired my brand and reached out to the founders for advice and insight. Some responded and some didn’t, of all, Chris Birchby from COOLA was a great resource that I really learned from. Remember, ask as many questions as you need!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Chris allowed me to come in and see the everyday operations of COOLA. I really appreciated his willingness to share and mentor me. It was nice to see this first hand. It opened my eyes to the type of team, culture, and responsibilities I wanted for Freedom. Podcasts and other resources do not really address the reality of da-to-day and it is hard to grasp the foundations through a computer screen. This was definitely a great learning opportunity!

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I would love to focus on the positive, as I am an optimist. You make things that are better for people, with a better application, ingredients, and overall experience. It is great when you switch to something better and you actually enjoy it — it’s fulfilling to me.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a brief story or example for each.

Trust your gut instinct, sometimes people are not invested in your plan and that is okay. Everyone will have an opinion and you do not have to listen to it. For example, I had male advisors that expressed I needed coaching because I did not always agree with them. When women are strong, they can be labeled as “bitchy”, but when men appear strong, they are labeled as “leaders.” I never understood this theory. One time, I was told I was a man-hater by my advisor (I am not and I am actively looking for a nice single one too!) because I disagreed with hiring a bookkeeper out of state. I fired my advisor and got that bookkeeper. They have been with us ever since — trust your gut instinct. And last but not least, if I had a dollar for every time my family or friends thought FREEDOM was a dumb idea or unfriended me because of my love for a natural deodorant, I could’ve self-funded this company years ago!

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

There are lots of things in the works for Freedom and well, I love the element of surprise so stay tuned. What I will say is, wait until you see our new packaging and where you’ll be able to find our products for purchase — definitely keep this on your radar!

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Ambition and strength are some of the biggest challenges I believe women face. Women are viewed as hard to work with, while men are viewed as disruptors and leaders. The truth is, I think we’re all leaders in our own way. Determination is key and essential to building a brand!

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

How I Built This is a must listen, it is my happy place. While I was going through a tough divorce, I went to see a tealeaf reader to tell me where my life was going as I really didn’t know what my next step was going to be (anyone who has gone through this knows you tend to try anything). The tealeaf reader saw a hummingbird in my tealeaves…I immediately got upset. I thought to myself, “I spent $200 to get what? A hummingbird?” As I was leaving, she told me the hummingbird would bring me my FREEDOM, and she was right. When you check out the FREEDOM logo, you will see a hummingbird.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

To bring more investment into female-owned brands, more advice, more opportunity…it blows my mind that women only get 2% of VC money. The industry is getting better, but it’s still very tough for female-owned brands. I would love to see more women invest in women, not just philanthropies. Empower a woman and she will empower her whole community.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Jump off the cliff and build the airplane on the way” It basically means don’t wait for perfection, just do it! (Thank you, Nike).


Female Disruptors: Ira Kaganovsky Green On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Michael Apostolos of Fourline Creative: They Told Me It Was Impossible And I Did It Anyway

Go into every opportunity with an open mind and treat it as a learning opportunity.

As a part of our series about “dreamers who ignored the naysayers and did what others said was impossible”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Apostolos.

Michael Apostolos is the founder and lead creative of Fourline. Starting as a young intern for a local lighting company, he began his career prepping tours in the shop and learning the intricate details of the equipment used for live shows. When not working at the lighting shop, Michael worked as a stagehand with IATSE Local 2, gaining hands on experience in all things production while setting up shows all around Chicago. After a few years working as an intern and perfecting his skills on many lighting consoles, he utilized his experience and talents and began touring the world with a number of artists as their lighting designer. He eventually adopted the role as a production designer and now focuses his work on creative direction and production design. He has quickly made a name for himself in the industry, becoming known for his design abilities and attention to detail in everything he creates. Specifically, he gained attention for his work with Chance The Rapper, landing himself a Parnelli Award nomination for production designer of the year in 2018. Michael has since collaborated on a variety of different projects with artists from all over the world.

Most recently, Michael created the look for Jennifer Hudson’s BET awards, CBS Primetime National Special Honoring the late Congressman John Lewis and her performance at the Democratic National Convention.

He creates set designs for the likes of SNL, Jimmy Fallon, James Corden and others. His work has also been featured on award shows such as Billboard Music Awards, Grammys, ACM, BET and ESPYs. Michael has and continues to create sets for Chance the Rapper, Maren Morris, Billie Eilish, Travis Scott and more.

From producing a nationally televised celebration concert to designing performances on late night tv, he is versatile in every aspect of his work. At Fourline, Michael works closely with clients from the jump, including the initial concept and design phase to the final product. He treats every project as if it’s the largest he’s ever worked on, the goal of leaving those that view his work with a feeling of emotion and an unforgettable experience.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us your ‘backstory’?

I am a 25-year-old Chicago native and the idea-person behind creative directions, production and lighting and overall creative design services for some of Hollywood’s biggest and well-loved entertainers.

I took a chance on myself and started working in the industry at age 16. I founded fourline creative, a company which creates set designs for the likes of SNL, Jimmy Fallon, James Corden and others. My work has also been featured on award shows such as Billboard Music Awards, Grammys, ACM, BET and ESPYs. I continue to create sets for Chance the Rapper, Maren Morris, Billie Eilish, Travis Scott and more.

As someone who never earned a college degree, I’m passionate about inspiring my generation by sharing his zest, determination and tenacity to push through for success no matter what.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m working on some holiday specials for the end of the year. I think they will help others by bringing happiness from the holiday spirit into people’s lives. Given the year that 2020 has been, I think everyone needs some happiness in their lives and watching a feel good, music driven Christmas-spirit themed TV special, will bring joy, hope and happiness into the viewers lives.

In your opinion, what do you think makes your company or organization stand out from the crowd?

We started up as a bunch of freelancers who are passionate and decided to take our passion full-time. I think Fourline stands out from the crowd because of the many collaborators and creative folks who make up the company. We all come from different avenues of the entertainment and creative industry which allows us to have vast knowledge of the many departments that are engaged on projects. We start creating by first getting a deep understanding of the project that we work on. In having a deep understanding of the meaning behind the project, we bring emotion and energy to enhance the experience of the client and the project we are working on.

Ok, thank you for that. I’d like to jump to the main focus of this interview. Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us? What was your idea? What was the reaction of the naysayers? And how did you overcome that?

When I first started at age 15 and knew that I wanted to get into the industry. I was interning at a local lighting and production company. In my time there and before, I started working and found myself so impressed with the industry that I knew I wanted to pursue entertainment.

In the end, how were all the naysayers proven wrong? 🙂

People, who did not understand the entertainment industry, kept pointing out how large of a task it is to break in. So, I was able to put that aside and keep pushing for my goals.

It must not have been easy to ignore all the naysayers. Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share the story with us?

There was a culmination of many people who believed in me. They are artists, designers, managers and other industry creatives. I was given the opportunity to succeed and to fail. All these experiences have helped me grow.

When in high school, my parents never put the pressure on me that I had to go to college, graduate and get a traditional job. I always appreciated their openness to let me create freely and follow my dreams.

I made the decision to skip college. My parents were excited for me and wanted to make sure that I made the right decision and they were supportive and wanted to make sure I was happy in my decision.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 strategies that people can use to harness the sense of tenacity and do what naysayers think is impossible? (Please share a story or an example for each)

1) I lead with my gut instinct.

2) I’m not afraid to take chances..If I’m not afraid of taking chances, In order for others to take chances on you, you need to be willing to take a chance on yourself first!

3) Believe in yourself and have confidence in your abilities.

4)Trust in your ability and have confidence, so others will take a chance on you.

5) Go into every opportunity with an open mind and treat it as a learning opportunity.

What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?

I always love the quote that “Errors are not an option.” I saw this in the movie, Apollo 13. When I go into something difficult, there is no giving up and make the best of it!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams — Don’t be afraid to break the mold and try something new. If you enjoy it, go for it and don’t be afraid to do something different and be someone different.

How Can our readers follow you on social media?

@mapostolos

@fourlinecreative

Thank you for these great stories. We wish you only continued success!


Michael Apostolos of Fourline Creative: They Told Me It Was Impossible And I Did It Anyway was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Female Disruptors: Danielle Hodge of ‘Alma Ocean’ On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your…

Female Disruptors: Danielle Hodge of ‘Alma Ocean’ On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

…You know, I don’t really like to compete or say there are challenges from my male counterparts. You can do anything you want as long as you put your all into it. What I can say is if you are a male and see a female asking to be seen with her business venture, don’t ignore her, uplift her. If you can’t assist her monetarily, put her in front of people who can. That’s causing disruption in a good way because once you inspire her, she will always remember how you helped her. That to me can cause a disruptive effect that can only be a good disruption.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Danielle Hodge.

Alma Ocean Founder and Creative Director, Danielle Hodge, is a serial entrepreneur with her first startup, Indigenous Coconut Oil, a swim enthusiast since childhood, and a former event producer and talent booker for high-profile athletes and musicians for major production companies.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I come from a career in marketing and also working in the entertainment industry as a talent booker. While sitting in the back seat and watching brands flourish after putting my blood, sweat and tears into someone else’s products or vision, that fueled me to know I can do something for myself and even make an impact in my own community. I grew up in a house where we had a pool in the backyard, which wasn’t common for families like mine. A single black Mother with 5 kids. Going for a swim became second nature to me. My routine was school, sports and spending the entire weekend swimming in the pool with my siblings and close friends from the neighborhood.

What led me to creating Alma Ocean was a mixture of things.

First not being able to find work due to COVID put a halt to the marketing tour I was previously on. This left me having to move back into my Moms house. The frustration set in of not finding work and I usually go pretty hard when there’s something I want. I would spend hours after hours on my laptop searching for jobs and even started looking into a career change.

My previous job required me to be at large events handling logistics and managing a large team. I traveled 8 months out of the year for almost 3 years, so sitting still in one place didn’t exist, till Covid. My body and mind needed a break so I decided to go for a swim.

I was tired though so I decided to quickly hop online and look for a pool float. That way I could unwind but also relax and take a few dips in the water. While I was searching online all the advertising was focused on one demographic. It blew my mind so much that I started specifically typing in “Black girl on pool inflatable”. When I didn’t see more of myself, I knew it was time to get to work.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

What’s so disruptive about Alma Ocean is the mere fact that it didn’t exist already. I mean think about it. The only floats and pools that are in the current marketplace are the typical Swan, Flamingo and Donut emojis. We don’t ever see any inflatables that are designed to appeal to different audiences and ethnic communities.

Alma Ocean is a Black-owned, female company in the pool inflatable industry that brings a new look, plans for upcycling, provides swimming resources and now includes the demographic that was lacking in the water accessories industry. It is the very first to ever create culturally-designed pools, floats and water accessories and will impact the inflatables industry for ALL communities to enjoy water activities.

Alma Ocean has three layers: patent-pending culturally-designed product offerings for ALL communities. Sustainability through transformation used inflatables into one-of-a-kind waterproof accessories and building a community around swim resources, lessons and water activities for everyone to enjoy the water.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I haven’t really made any funny mistakes while starting, more so just taking a gamble that I have not one doubt in my body about. I’m betting on my belief that I can make the water accessory industry more inclusive and not ignore my community. What I’m learning is people will support you fiercely on your journey when they know you have a mission behind your product or brand. Don’t just be “another” product, bring something to offer that will be better for the world.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Is it ok to say the influence of successful artists and public figures have mentored me along the way from afar? Words matter and I thoroughly listen. I’m constantly studying, listening, watching moves and gaining inspiration from people like Charlamagne tha God, who embodies black culture and constantly uplifting the black community. I watch Issa Rae who’s the same age as me and how she launched her career with The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, paving the way for black girls like me ME. She’s now launching her line of hair care products and has done all that while being her authentic self. Tracee Ellis Ross for being so vibrant, funny, talented and a positive individual. Lenny S, as I watch him tell his story of how he believed Jay-Z would rise to the top and how his loyalty and persistence helped build the Roc Nation empire. The way they all worked hard to get to where they are, their stories stuck with me. They inspired me to know I can make an impact too if I just put in the work and remain my authentic self. Most importantly, know you belong and don’t give up.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disrupting the industry can be positive and can be good if you’re bringing something new and creative to the table that can bring others up with you. Whatever it is you’re doing should at least give people the inspiration or tools to do something good for the world, or else why do it?

An example of bad disruption would be how the last 4 years have been ok with normalizing hate and ignoring cries for help when people are at their lowest point. Without getting too political, I have never seen anything like this in my life and nor do I ever want to see it again.

An example of a positive disruption is what Alma Ocean is doing. Speaking to all communities and the BIPOC communities with floats, pools and water accessories that appeal to their personal taste and cultures.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  • Don’t change and be yourself.
  • Everything will fall into place if you stay consistent.
  • Make sure whatever you do has an impact on your community.

All 3 words of advice I gave myself. I didn’t really have anyone giving me advice while working on Alma Ocean. Naturally I always worked that way because of those positive influences I previously mentioned. I more so just had support from my family and friends along the way. They all know me and know once I believe in something, I’m going to give my all. They all gave me the room I needed to fuel my passion and have been there during the whole process as my support system.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

You know me too well. Alma Ocean is a very scalable brand. The plan is to keep creating new designs and collaborating with other like minded brands to elevate diversity in the water community. You’ll have to stay tuned!

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

You know, I don’t really like to compete or say there are challenges from my male counterparts. You can do anything you want as long as you put your all into it. What I can say is if you are a male and see a female asking to be seen with her business venture, don’t ignore her, uplift her. If you can’t assist her monetarily, put her in front of people who can. That’s causing disruption in a good way because once you inspire her, she will always remember how you helped her. That to me can cause a disruptive effect that can only be a good disruption.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Any interview with Jay- Z. His thought process and the way he sees things has always stuck with me. He’s a great example of moving silence and letting success be his noise. And even then with his success, there’s not much cheering. It’s just doing what you’ve been put on this Earth to do, no applause needed. My most recent read was “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight, the creator behind Nike. The story telling, ups and downs and constant rejection really stuck with me. He was building Nike and always aiming high and never gave up. That really stuck with me because It’s really not easy building what you know and believe to be an empire. Embracing all the “no’s” and moving through a pack of lions holding a bag of meat and making it out alive is almost how I envision entrepreneurship. Lastly I listen to Charlamagene & Andrew Shultz “Brilliant Idiots” from time to time. Mainly because they are entertaining and hilarious. It’s a cool mental get away and I do pick up some inspiration and gems while I’m listening too.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A movement I would inspire is culturepunership. Capitalizing on the idea of ​culturepreneureship and turning it into the movement we’ve ​earned​. We’re here, we’re smart, we have disposable income, we have role models, we are acknowledging our history, and we’re ready. The market is ripe for both pressing forward and pushing back, to quietly inculcate ourselves into the marketplace and become a force to 132 million minority people in the United States alone. What culturepunership looks like is big corporations including more black owed products on their shelves. When advertising products make sure you’re diversifying and embracing our beauty so that we can stop feeling lesser and more equal. That is culturepunership.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Aim to inspire others on your way to the top.

I’ve just always been that way. People are so competitive when really you should be the opposite and inspire one another. It’s really as simple as hearing a friend out on their idea and giving them some positive and real feedback. Maybe even sharing their new song or product they launched. I’m a huge believer in that playing a crucial part in how we grow and It’s simply what makes the world go round. I know that may sound corny, but take an insecure or unsure person and encourage them to be their best. You’ll have created a monster — In a good disruptive way.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can follow on Instagram and Facebook @_AlmaOcean or visit our website www.AlmaOcean.co. We’ll be crowdfunding from November 2nd — December 6th and if people want to pre order they can go to ifundwomen.com/projects/alma-ocean.


Female Disruptors: Danielle Hodge of ‘Alma Ocean’ On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Shahab Elmi of the KNK Group: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO

FIND TALENT..THEN PAY THEM WELL!: If you follow sports; the team with the best talent (usually) wins. In my prior career, I sat in meetings where we passed on top tier talent due to the bureaucracies of the organization. There were concerns around setting compensation precedent. This is a short sighted approach. Focus on ROI. What is the incremental lift from a high-end performer vs. the baseline? Pay a lot, expect a lot!

As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shahab Elmi.

Shahab Elmi is a serial entrepreneur who has founded four companies: Cymbiotika (nutritional supplements), DASH Radio / DASH International (online radio), KNK Group (Cricket Wireless stores), and Day Group (customizable phone cases). Shahab sold Day Group to Duckie Accessories for an 8-figure sum just 26 months after it was founded.

Under Shahab’s leadership, KNK Group has been awarded the title of “Cricket Wireless National Dealer of the Year.” This award comes well earned — in 3 years, KNK Group has opened 172 stores in 6 states. Additionally, Shahab is a member of the Board of Advisors at Bomani Cold Buzz, and on the Board of Directors at Massiv Clothing.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

A former boss once told me: “Hope is not a strategy.” I try to build redundancies and contingencies for every variable. Never “hope” things go right.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I have been a serial entrepreneur for years and have had success in various industries. What I have learned is that diversification is integral to thriving in the workplace because it creates long term security. However, to truly excel, it is crucial to find a passion project. For me, that is Cymbiotika.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

Discipline. Focus. Unwilling to Compromise.

We start and end each meeting with Quality and Quality control discussions. This laser focus became the foundation of everything we do at Cymbiotika: to create the best health products in the world.

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

Professionally, I want to expand the product portfolio. We are slated to begin distribution for Cymbiotika in 8 countries in Q4 2020. We would like to increase that number to 20 countries by 2021.

Personally, I want to be the best husband, father, son, friend, and leader I can possibly be.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

Help millions (even billions) of people live longer, healthier, and happier lives.

Ok, super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. YOU WILL FAIL: It will happen. Sounds terrible, but success as an entrepreneur is not linear. At some point things will not go as planned. Expecting and planning for these misses is critical. In fact, building redundancies may be the most important strategic initiative in any organization. If you sell a product, you should have 2–3 suppliers for each part/ingredient. This allows the company to mitigate risk while gaining leverage.
  2. FIND TALENT..THEN PAY THEM WELL!: If you follow sports; the team with the best talent (usually) wins. In my prior career, I sat in meetings where we passed on top tier talent due to the bureaucracies of the organization. There were concerns around setting compensation precedent. This is a short sighted approach. Focus on ROI. What is the incremental lift from a high-end performer vs. the baseline? Pay a lot, expect a lot!
  3. LEARN FROM OTHERS, NEVER EMULATE THEM: Leadership styles and company cultures are unique. Many entrepreneurs fall victim to “copycat leadership”. With so many “gurus” and leadership “how to” books, the propensity to attempt to replicate someone else’s success is a trap that leads to inevitable failure. Strategy can be duplicated; culture has to be molded.
  4. BUILD INFRASTRUCTURE FOR THE FUTURE; NOT THE PRESENT: A solid foundation is critical when scaling with velocity. Build infrastructure for 36 month growth. Yes, cash flow pressures will be a challenge; as a CEO, it’s our job to navigate those challenges.
  5. COMPANY CULTURE IS THE DIFFERENCE MAKER: Product (or service) quality is paramount; but company culture is what will fuel the engine of success. There may come a day where a competitor will provide products/services identical in quality and scope. But, CULTURE CANNOT BE REPLICATED. Everyone wants to be appreciated. Everyone wants to work in a pleasant/happy environment. Everyone wants to look forward to coming to work. As a CEO, YOU have control over the kind of environment your organization cultivates. Spend time and resources constantly working on this. NEVER EVER take your team for granted.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?

One major challenge is that the supplement industry is largely unregulated. This causes distrust from consumers and allows unqualified groups to produce and distribute poor quality products.

Scaling with velocity is one of the most challenging aspects of leading any business. In the last year, we have increased gross revenue by 800%, added 9 SKUs, created the first proprietary subscription custom bundle platform, moved both fulfillment and call centers in house, launched a new site, and implemented a vast array of Salesforce solutions. With so much happening, the challenge is identifying and remaining focused on a singular overarching priority. For Cymbiotika, that has always been: QUALITY (and quality controls). It may seem obvious; however, with so much excitement and noise around new verticals, something as “mundane” as quality is often overlooked. There is a common sentiment by consumers that states: “They were great before they became so big and commercialized”. This is a common negative residual effect of scaling with velocity…loss of quality.

Thank you for these insights!


Shahab Elmi of the KNK Group: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Female Disruptors: Natacha Seroussi of Laflore On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your…

Female Disruptors: Natacha Seroussi of Laflore On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

The best advice I got was to believe in my dream. When I first started to design the LaFlore Paris collection, it was very hard, and we were barely selling any bags. At some point I decided to bet on myself, and I literally invested all the money I had put on the side for the past couple of years to do a big Facebook campaign. We worked with someone who was a pro in this, and at the end of the campaign, there was not one sale! It was so depressing, and it felt so easy to just give up and work in the store selling leather bags. But I always remember that little voice saying: “Believe in your dream, don’t give up,” and I kept going. I learned, the line evolved, and we improved, and eventually LaFlore became as successful as it is today!

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Natacha Seroussi.

Natacha Seroussi is the co-founder and designer of the “bobobark bag” from Laflore fashion. Growing up in Paris, she watched her father Elie create beautiful handbags for his fashion house, Cecile et Jeanne. His hard work and dedication to the world of fashion inspired Natacha with a passion for design. After studying art, as well as becoming an accomplished horse trainer, Natacha found the opportunity to work alongside her father to usher in a new vision of sustainability and eco-friendliness to the industry. Combining their shared appreciation for the classic Parisian aesthetic with the ethics of today’s modern woman, they created bobobark: a beautiful, versatile, zero-waste, vegan handbag that flatters the silhouette and style of any woman. Their ultimate goal for this new venture was that women would no longer have to choose between style and comfort, beauty or sustainability.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I have always been very attracted to fashion, art and design. As a child, I remember spending hours in my father’s workshop, playing with beads and fabric. When I grew up I decided to study fine art and specialized in sculpture, and at the same time I was working with horses, as a horse trainer and teacher — nature and animals were very important to me. It is when I moved to New York after my studies that I realized I wanted to make a career in fashion. At the time, in parallel to my horse trainer job upstate New York, I was helping my dad in trade shows in Manhattan, representing his line of vintage leather bags. I remember the first time I entered the world of fashion in NYC, I was shook by so many inspiring designers, energy and creativity. I realized that fashion was sculpture, painting, installation and dance all at once. I just needed to add the nature part, by making it vegan and eco friendly, and it could become my dream. My father and I partnered up to create a new brand that would carry those values; esthetic and ethic, heritage and modernity.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

On one side the design of the bag itself, the look of both bebebark and bobobark is very different from what you can see on the market: very pure and clean lines, with the iconic mat black, brass clasp and signature orange lining.

Until now, women could either pick an elegant tote bag or a bulky backpack, but there was not any elegant and chic backpack that could also convert into a shoulder bag. Bebebark and bobobark both offer these options; they are classy enough for a serious work meeting, elegant enough for going out and super comfy as a backpack.

On the other hand, we are offering a real alternative to leather. Everybody knows today how polluting the fashion industry is, and the dramatic impact leather has on our environment and animal welfare. As designers, it is our duty to propose eco friendly alternatives. Cork is sustainable, feels and looks great, and is organic and alive. Our bags are essentially made from trees, but we never hurt the trees; on the contrary, they reject more oxygen after we collect their bark every 7 to 9 years. The oak forest is also the shelter of a very rich eco system, so by supporting the cork industry we are protecting the natural habitat of all this rich fauna and flora and encouraging the planting of trees.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we started with Laflore, I was so excited to show the new collection to the world that I used my contact list of B2B buyers from the time I was representing the leather collection of my father in NY. I sent an email to everyone on that list to introduce the new line; one of our biggest client had fur shops in NY, and she got so upset that I dared propose her “vegan bags”. She wrote “Vegan is very bad for my business.” I was so embarrassed! But it also made me realize that indeed it was “really bad for her business,” because the world was changing, and vegan was on the way to become the new norm. It gave me strength and courage to continue, even if it took two long years after that event for the line to finally take off!

Have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My first and forever mentor is my father Elie; he always encouraged me and my creative passions, teaching me while at the same time giving me enough space to do my own thing. When I was five years old, he asked me what I want to become when I grow up and I said, “I want to designs hats.” The next day he took me to a magnificent Parisian atelier of hat making. The week after, he asked the same question and I said I want to work in a horse show, and again he took me to see Zingaro, the famous equestrian theater. My father raised us with the idea that everything was possible always — that we could just pick up the craziest dream and make it happen if we worked hard enough. The fact that he is not a designer himself is what makes us a great team because we are complementary; he sees everything that can be improved in a bag so he always have feedback and advices about my work. But, on the other hand, I can enjoy the space and freedom of being the only creative mind of the brand.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I think that the real question is what are you disrupting — if it is a balanced and sustainable industry, then you need to think of what impact you will make on that industry and the long-term consequences. For example, when plastic arrived on the market in the fifties, it was revolutionary and dramatically changed the way people lived and consumed; today we know it was also an ecological catastrophe. Was it worth bringing comfort and abundance into people lives to pay such a high price afterword? I am not sure. Was there another solution that could allow such a fast improvement in our comfort and hygiene? I don’t know either.

When it comes to the eco conscious movement, I do think that this kind of disruptive is only positive. We can feel this new awareness all around us; in every field people are coming up with solutions and alternatives. The youngest generation is aware of the environment challenges that we are facing and is ready to change and adapt in order to create a more sustainable world. And yes, this is disruptive and even disturbing; we will have to adapt and change a lot, but we must make that change. Will we be effective enough and fast enough? The latest events proved how humanity can adapt and change quickly when confronted with global threats. And I am optimistic that we can do the same with climate change.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

The best advice I got was to believe in my dream. When I first started to design the LaFlore Paris collection, it was very hard, and we were barely selling any bags. At some point I decided to bet on myself, and I literally invested all the money I had put on the side for the past couple of years to do a big Facebook campaign. We worked with someone who was a pro in this, and at the end of the campaign, there was not one sale! It was so depressing, and it felt so easy to just give up and work in the store selling leather bags. But I always remember that little voice saying: “Believe in your dream, don’t give up,” and I kept going. I learned, the line evolved, and we improved, and eventually LaFlore became as successful as it is today!

The second piece of advice that I got is; “Always surround yourself with people that complete you.” Know you strengths and your weakness and partner up with people that will balance your weakness. It is easy to fall into the control freak pattern and dictate every aspect of your business, especially when one has worked so hard at it. Instead, I recommend working with talented people, giving them the freedom to express themselves and thrive, trusting them and letting them lead in their field. This is the true key to success, and the only way you will have a dedicated and motivated team.

“Trust your instinct” is another piece of advice I live by. I think with time I realized that, more than trusting my instinct, the real advise is learn how to analyze your instinct and understand were it is coming from. We all have a bunch of reasons and excuses to make one decision rather than another. I always stop and analyze each reason I give myself to make a decision and sort out what’s influencing me to think one way rather than the other. Is it my ego that doesn’t agree with my interlocutor or am I really against this new idea? Am I putting down this offer because it is not the right moment for us, or am I letting the fear decide for me? When I started LaFlore, a lot of signs were pushing me to choose a different path, and in some points I may have come out as stubborn to some people. But deep inside, I knew that the reason I was holding on to this project was not because I had too big of an ego to let go, or because I was a naive activist, it was because I truly felt that the industry was about to change and that the market was ready for that change.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Of course, I am already working on new designs, I am constantly running a few prototypes at the same time, the excitement of creating new pieces and seeing it come to life is addictive. When I work on a new design I ask myself: what is missing in women’s’ lives? What can I add to the market that will truly be useful? Of course, on top of creating esthetic and practical bags, my long-term goal is to impact the fashion industry globally and influence both designers and consumers to go for sustainable alternative. For instance, I was very happy to see, since the launch of Bobobark, other brands starting using cork as an alternative to leather and therefore enriching the market with more sustainable products. I do hope that LaFlore Paris will become a global leader in bags and accessory in the next 10 years and intend to work hard to make this happen.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I think that generally women are taken less seriously than men, and you need to work harder to convince people. Our determinations can pass as stubbornness, our ambition as whim, our confidence as ego, and our ability to make decision as authoritarian. But what doesn’t help is that we often communicate in our work environment with less confidence and less naturally than men, specifically because we are aware of the challenges. I do think that the first step to overcome these stereotypes is to get rid of the cliché ourselves, and walk into a meeting or an interview being natural and ourselves, instead of feeling like we have to prove something to someone. I think it is fundamental to understand the strength and weakness we have as individual and let go of the gender stereotype. Once you are not taking into consideration the fact that you are a man or a women and just speaking with your true self, there are more chances that your interlocutor will also forget about your gender and just listen to the human being that in in front of him.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

This might be cliché, but the one book that truly impacted me is Siddhartha by Hermann Heists. Finding the balance between spiritual and material, reality and imagination. I think that LaFlore is a little bit of this, keeping the beauty and the art in the center but adding something meaningful to it and trying to join a bigger goal, to impact positively the world around us.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

It would be the eco consciousness movement, of course. I really wish to influence people to buy differently, to change their habits and the way they relate to the environment. I think that generally it is a never-ending quest and that we can always be better. At LaFlore Paris, we are still improving everyday and hope to become more and more sustainable. There is still a lot of work to do. As of today we are keeping our sustainable promise by choosing sustainable material; cork and recycled cotton. We put a huge emphasis on the durability of our products, we make high quality bags that will last, and we take care of any repair or replacement if needed. And of course the way we deal with our stock, by working with platform like kickstarter we make sure to never produce more than needed and avoid stock waste (which is the main reason why the fashion industry is so polluting). On top of all this, we try to make our community realize that eco friendly alternative does not have to mean compromise, and that it can be as chic and good.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“90% of work, 10% of talent.” I grew up with that sentence and everytime i was bad at something I told myself: it’s ok if you work harder than the rest, because you might succeed in the end.

How can our readers follow you online?

We have a blog on our website with interesting articles about sustainability and fashion:

https://lafloreparis.com/blogs/laflore-blog

And of course, you can follow us on instagram to stay tuned on every novelty: @lafloreparis


Female Disruptors: Natacha Seroussi of Laflore On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Female Disruptors: Sarah-Eva Marchese of Floracracy On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your…

Female Disruptors: Sarah-Eva Marchese of Floracracy On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

“Talent to the task.” Hiring well was the hardest thing when starting my business, and I was slow to get it right. I eventually started to hire people that I just thought would be great for our culture and our team, and then figured out how they’d fit into it. This was inspired by an investor and mentor, Gloria, who told me: talent to the task.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sara-Eva Marchese.

Sarah-Eva Marchese is founder and CEO of Floracracy, a technologically advanced premium floral brand, which launched in October 2020. Sarah-Eva leveraged her training as a terrorist profiler to track facts and trends in the floral industry, which became the basis of Floracracy’s patent-pending software. She was inspired to start Floracracy when her family needed to order flowers for her wedding and her grandmother’s funeral within a two-week period. Before launching the Rockford, Illinois company she was a member of 1871’s WiSTEM in 2018 and Chicago Innovations Women’s Mentoring Co-op in 2017. She holds a M.Litt. in International Security from St. Andrews University and an MA in War Studies from the University of London, and previously worked for a private intelligence agency and in sales.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I went to graduate school to study international relations at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. I became really interested in conflict resolution theories and also was trained in terrorist organization profiling. I started to explore the role of narrative theory in resolving conflicts and built a peacebuilding theory that won me high honors. I’d planned to pursue a PhD at Cambridge based on that work, but decided it wasn’t the right path for me.

A few years later, I had to order flowers for my wedding and for a funeral in a short span of time. I began thinking about the important role flowers play at meaningful times of our lives. I became absolutely fascinated by the research about flowers and their impact on people and communities — and I knew that I’d found my purpose.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

For decades, people have sent flowers by ordering premade arrangements online. But when a lot of people go online to order, they get the same dated interface and few options to personalize their arrangement. Often some of the flowers aren’t available in a certain area, and the flowers that wind up being delivered might look quite a bit different from the photo on a website. This makes the experience feel less meaningful and the end result, less-dependable.

That method of buying flowers is also far removed from the rich and deep relationship humans traditionally have had with them. Some of the earliest humans are believed to have used flowers in rituals and as a means of communication. Languages developed around them in almost every culture around the world. All of that had been lost.

My vision for Floracracy was simple: to create a more meaningful and personalized way to buy flowers that are delivered exactly as ordered. On our site, you can choose an arrangement based on styles created using the symbolic language of flowers. Each customer has the option to adjust the arrangement based on a series of options that may suit the style or taste associated with the recipient and occasion. We process our own orders, allowing us to guarantee that they include exactly what was ordered. And we ship in cooled boxes to the lower 48 states.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Last December, we were running a beta test at the exact same time I was due to give birth to my third child. I was due December 23, the last day of our beta test. I was hoping that she’d be born on her due date or after. Instead, I went into labor on December 20th. My team ran into troubles with an order they were fulfilling. I was determined that quality would not be compromised, so I had my husband leave the hospital and go get the order that was causing trouble. He brought it back along with a hazmat suit. I was at this point 5 centimeters dilated, and I was told the baby was coming in a few hours. I threw the hazmat suit over my hospital gown, and I stood in the hospital room making the floral arrangement, stopping every few minutes for a contraction.

My team member was connecting with me by phone, and every time I went into a contraction, she would stop and breathe with me.

Word got around the hospital that there was a woman making floral arrangements while in labor. Nurses started walking by my room, or knocking to see if they could come in to see if it was true.

I got the arrangement done. I tore off the hazmat suit and got back to birthing my baby.

I had been terrified about having a third child while in such a critical time of my company, but I didn’t want to resent my company for making me pick between it and the family I also really wanted. What I learned from this experience is that we have internal reserves of strength that we can draw on. When we think we are doing everything, there is often another idea or another way to reach the goal. And most of the goals worth achieving are on the other side of what looks impossible — like making arrangements in a hospital while in labor. While terrifying and awful at the time, moments like these are gifts because they help us realize, when things get rough, that we have so much more within us to overcome the challenge.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I cannot stress enough how much I believe in mentorship, though I also cannot stress enough how much I believe in the importance of good mentorship. I don’t think we talk enough about what makes a great mentor. Great mentorship can change lives, and mentors have changed mine. A bad mentor can do more harm than good.

While I was still a stay-at-home mom, living in a tiny apartment in the Chicago suburbs. I got up early one morning and sat staring into the night wondering why my dreams were not happening. I had done everything the books said I should do. I’d even become an early morning riser! I realized I needed the support of mentors, but I wasn’t sure anyone would want to spend time with me. I didn’t think that I was serious enough as an entrepreneur or that my dream was worth someone else’s time.

I was determined to succeed, though, so I signed up for some mentorship programs. When I was accepted to Chicago Innovation’s Women’s Mentoring Co-op, my business started to move forward. I also began to research, find, and reach out to individuals that I thought could help me learn. I would figure out my weak spots and my areas where I had a strength worth developing, and I looked for people who could support this growth.

Since then, my mentors have included John Higginson, former CTO of FTD and now CTO of Groupon,Tim Grace, the former CPO of TrunkClub, Tim Storm, the former founder of Fat Wallet, Aimee Daniels, Vistage Master Chair, Troy Hennikoff, the former CEO of OneWed and now partner at MATH Ventures, Leslie Vickrey, the founder of ClearEdge Marketing, and Harry Gottlieb, the founder of Jellyvision and Jack Box. I also have some amazing mentors in Rockford, Illinois from the manufacturing and business side, including Gloria Pernacciaro, former President of Reliable Machine, Duane Wingate, founder of Ingenium, and Jim Keeling, a Partner at Hinshaw and Culbertson.

I believe that actively and authentically seeking mentors is one key reason I was able to raise a seed round successfully. Most of my investors started as mentors. Some of my mentors also introduced me to people who became investors.

Being a successful entrepreneur requires the ability to adapt and change constantly, and that’s hard. I believe great mentors get your vision and are able to help you set your eyes on the next bit of horizon when you can’t see through the fog anymore. There are not enough imaginary pages in Google sheets to capture all the ways my mentors have helped me achieve this, such as when one said: “You’re ready to literally get out of the basement and find yourself an amazing space.” Or when another mentor told me that I had to stop living in survival mode and believe in abundance.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Your question acknowledges the fact that there often are negative consequences to innovation and disruption. Virtual engagement, for example, has revolutionized how humans connect and given us many more ways of communicating. On the flip side, about 40% of Americans report being lonely and suicide rates keep rising. Is this a deeply negative consequence of something that has also been amazing for humans? Possibly.

I think disruption is an overall positive when the change is in service to others. Focusing on the customer means that the wellbeing of others is at the heart of your business. When that happens, you accept that you are never finished. Your products or services may have consequences that you absolutely must address. That requires a sense of humility and an openness to keep innovating. If you can keep that vulnerability and a relentless focus on the customer, you might be able to minimize any of the less desirable consequences of innovation. You’ll recognize the complexity of change.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. “Talent to the task.” Hiring well was the hardest thing when starting my business, and I was slow to get it right. I eventually started to hire people that I just thought would be great for our culture and our team, and then figured out how they’d fit into it. This was inspired by an investor and mentor, Gloria, who told me: talent to the task.
  2. “Don’t launch until you get your product right.” This advice went in the face of a lot of advice out there, but my mentor, Harry Gottlieb, was adamant. We tested so many ways of presenting our product that I’ve lost count. Nothing felt quite right. But then all of these ideas and bits of feedback from testers started to come together, and I knew we’d gotten it right.
  3. “There is always a solution. The question is if you’re willing to pay the price.” I have always had a fear of not having enough money. After all, I’ve heard over and over that most companies fail because they lack enough funding. That advice helped me remember that I’d bailed myself out of so many scrapes and ulcer-inducing situations that I knew with certainty I could always find a solution.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We’re really interested in how we can take our personalization experience further, leveraging AI to provide even more ideas and direction to users when it comes to the right message and style that is right for them.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Early on, I faced a number of people who assumed I was not a serious entrepreneur because I was a Mom. One influential lawyer in the business called my business a “mommy business” (which he did not mean as a good thing). I also know it is a lot harder to raise money. I believe that I succeeded because I only needed to raise about $300,000. If I had asked for a million dollars, I don’t know that I would have been as successful. There are some benefits to this. I couldn’t afford to take any really big risks, so I only made mistakes that cost me a few thousand dollars. However, not being able to take those risks limited my hiring choices and changed the trajectory of my business.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Early in my journey, I read Dame Stephanie Shirley’s Letting Go. It is an amazing book. Shirley came to the UK from Germany as a child refugee and started one of the first software companies in the 1960s in England. She hired stay-at-home mothers — she was one of the first entrepreneurs to think of alternative ways to build a staff. She also had a son who had nonverbal autism at a time when not much was known about it, and writes about how she built her business from inside hospital rooms.

Shirley had people steal clients, her marriage suffered, and she faced terrible pain. Still, she helped a lot of people along the way. After changing how companies work, she was at the forefront of thinking of new ways of supporting children with autism.

More than any other book, Stephanie Shirley’s felt truly honest about the price of working toward a dream. She helped me see in another story what I felt in my own: that often the hardest, darkest parts happen right before something big and wonderful is about to happen. She describes deciding to wear a fur coat to feel the promise of success when she really wanted to sell it as she was so broke, of working through vacations at the expense of family time, and the impact her work and focus had on personal relationships. I faced each of these moments and decisions. Her book helped me recognize these terrifying decisions (and socially “unacceptable” ones to some degree) as part of the process.

She gave me a role model of learning to be okay with the struggle and to really be willing to invest completely in my goal. During some really lonely moments when I wasn’t sure if I could get us to the next level, I would go and sit in my closet on the floor away from kids and employees and everyone else. And I would replay her story in my mind as a technique to remind myself that this is part of the process. I would stay there as long as I needed, and then I’d get up and go back to work.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Early in building my business, I interviewed the first florist in Mogadishu, Somalia in over 20 years. He was flying flowers in from Nairobi because there were literally no flowers left in his country. He believed that if more people saw real flowers, it would help the healing process after 20 years of civil war.

This was a city where electricity was regularly unavailable, but he believed that flowers could help build a future of peace. People started to buy his flowers, especially on Valentine’s Day, which was an illegal holiday. He also started to work with orphans planting flower gardens in this city, until a band of terrorists tracked him down and killed him. The youth of Somalia rose up in protest against his death and that nothing was done about it.

When I had interviewed him, I asked him if he was afraid. He said that he did get scared, but he was determined to stay because he felt he was making a difference.

He was the first person in the industry I met who shared my belief that the meaningful nature of flowers themselves was something humans needed. I think about Mouhammed every single day and how he thought a flower was worth his life.

When people buy flowers on our site, they are encouraged to write a personal note that expresses how the floral meanings capture how they feel.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” — Anais Nin.

This has been a favorite quote long before I was even in the flower business. I love it because I think it captures the weirdly awful experience of growth and reaching for what you want. Getting what you want involves a lot of coaxing and often uncomfortable pushing toward your heart’s desire.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can follow our company @floracracy on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. They can also join our email address on www.floracracy.com.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you!!


Female Disruptors: Sarah-Eva Marchese of Floracracy On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Female Disruptors: Author Dr Katherine Ortega Courtney On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up You

Female Disruptors: Author Dr. Katherine Ortega Courtney On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

…Give your love back where you get it. Publishing a book and pushing new ideas brings with it a lot of feedback, both good and bad. Her advice means to focus on the good, and that is a strategy that has really worked for us. Early on we had people who just fell in love with the book, Anna, Age Eight, and we invested a lot of energy and time in working with those people, and that led us to where we are now with an institute at a university. There were also many people who didn’t like what we were doing, but we have found it is a much better use of our time not to focus much of our energy on those people.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Katherine Ortega Courtney.

Dr. Katherine Ortega Courtney is the co-author of the groundbreaking book Attack of the Three-Headed Hydras which serves as an urgently needed call-to-action to end the pandemic and address the economic instability, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), family trauma, social adversity and lack of timely, accessible medical and mental health care. Dr. Courtney is an advocate for strengthening continuous quality improvement in all family-serving organizations, from health care to transportation, to create a seamless system of health and safety in each county. She promotes a data-driven, cross-sector and technology-empowered county capacity-building process.

She is also the co-author, with Dominic Cappello, of 100% Community: Ensuring 10 Vital Services for Surviving and Thriving to guide local leadership in every state and county in their work designing fully-resourced cities and towns where vital services like health care, among ten surviving and thriving services, meet the needs of all families and community members. Courtney and Cappello are also co-authors of Anna, Age Eight: The data-driven prevention of childhood trauma and maltreatment, which serves as a long overdue call-to-action for each state to end adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), trauma, social adversity and health disparities. Dr. Courtney has a PhD in Experimental Psychology from Texas Christian University, where she studied at the Institute of Behavioral Research. Dr. Courtney worked with the State of New Mexico for eight years, first as the Juvenile Justice Epidemiologist, then as Bureau Chief of the Child Protective Services Research, Assessment and Data Bureau. Dr. Courtney championed and co-developed the New Mexico Data Leaders for Child Welfare program, which was implemented in NYC, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. She has worked in policy, research and has led community initiatives through her work at the Santa Fe Community Foundation and the New Mexico Early Childhood Development Partnership.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I grew up in Espanola, New Mexico, a small town known mainly for its lowriders and high drug overdose rates. I grew up in a strong, supportive family with deep roots in Northern New Mexico. I felt safe and happy at home, but I was growing up in a place where the opportunity gap, historical inequities and poverty were a part of every aspect of life, including school. Both my brother and I had friends pass away at very young ages, and we saw many people struggling with substance abuse, diseases of despair, and our community was subject to a great deal of racism and scorn. I wanted to become a psychologist so that I could figure out how to prevent substance abuse, which I felt led to so many of the problems in my hometown. I studied substance abuse in graduate school and one of the most important things I learned was that I had the wrong assumption. It wasn’t the substance abuse that led to the historical inequities, social adversity and trauma, it was all of those things that led to the substance abuse, and it was all intertwined into a vicious cycle. After finishing my PhD, I thought that by working for government I would be able to help break that cycle. After working for state government for eight years, I realized that I could make more of an impact by leaving state government and freeing myself to research and write about the solutions that people who were working in government were too busy to discover.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

My co-author Dominic Cappello and I started out with the goal of improving child welfare, but we realized in order to do that effectively, the focus has to be on ensuring that parents have the opportunity to thrive in every community. In our first book, Anna, Age Eight, we had a chapter called “Why your zip code shouldn’t determine your destiny”. This chapter has become the basis for our institute and the two books we have written since. The point is that some families live in communities where they have easy access to everything they need (good schools, medical and behavioral health care, and other services) and many families live in neighborhoods where they do not have any support. Our vision is that if everyone, 100% of people had access to ten vital surviving and thriving services, this would not only prevent a great deal of childhood trauma, it would also prevent many of the things communities struggle with like homelessness and crime. We are trying to change the way people think about poverty, the role of local government, as well as individual’s role in their own community.

In general, people don’t usually think about how systems interact with each other to form communities that either thrive or struggle. When we worked in child protective services, there was rarely a focus on ensuring that the struggling families had access to the services they needed to improve their lives. In general, it was a system in which parents were instructed to connect with services and “fix yourself”. It might seem obvious that the system isn’t going to work if parents are unable to access the services they need. Many times, these services had nothing to do with parenting skills and more to do with basic survival, such as food and housing supports. But the people who worked in each of these services- food, housing, and child welfare were all too busy and overwhelmed to even think about how these services were connected. As we expanded our scope and continued or research, we realized that no entity was ensuring that the needed services were available and accessible. The Anna Age Eight Institute, based on the recommendations in the book, is the first institute funded by the state legislature to specifically focus on this. Our work brings together community members from all walks of life to collectively work toward ensuring that 100% of community members can thrive.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I completely thought that we would release the book Anna Age Eight and somehow, I guess magically, people would read it, take it to heart, and implement the recommendations we provided. Looking back on that idea, and how much work we ended up putting into awareness, getting the institute started, and now leading the institute, I realize how ludicrous that idea was. It seems to be a lesson I have to learn over and over again. I always assume and hope that good ideas will just be discovered, but the world simply doesn’t work like that. Getting new ideas out there takes a huge amount of effort, and the work is never done. I thought we reached some kind of finish line when we launched the Anna, Age Eight Institute, but of course I was wrong. If dramatically changing systems was easy, it would have already happened. My co-author and I talk a lot about how we may not even see the finished result of our initiative in our lifetimes. Big disruption can happen fast, or it can take years and we are prepared for it to take years, although every once in a while, especially in times of frustration I still need to be reminded that stuff doesn’t just magically happen.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I was very, lucky to grow up surrounded by family and extended family who truly loved and believed in me. My parents and my husband have played a huge role in getting me to where I am by constantly pushing me out of my comfort zone because they believe in me. As an adult, I have been lucky enough to meet many people who have been inspiring and have helped me along the way. One of the most important of these is my co-author Dominic Cappello. When we met we were working in child welfare, and although we had nothing in common at the surface level, we immediately had a deep connection because we were both big picture thinkers who knew our systems could do better. We also discovered that we had similar writing styles. Dominic had been a best-selling author, so when the idea occurred to me that we should write a book, he knew exactly what to do. Writing with an experienced partner was a game changer for me. Dominic knew how to keep us on schedule, he knew how to edit our writing, and most importantly he knew that we needed to do a lot more than just write the book, but that the real work was promoting it. My writing has vastly improved as a result of working with Dominic, and he continues to guide me through the process of publishing, designing, and marketing. It’s fascinating that a chance meeting at a work potluck has led to the publication of three books, and an institute, but it goes to show what a huge impact a person can have on your life, if you are open to learning from them.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

The system we set out to disrupt was the child welfare system. This was a system that was broken. Kids weren’t always safe, staff were burning out, and no one was looking for innovative solutions to prevent the need for foster care. In New Mexico in the early 2000’s our child welfare system was one of the highest functioning, based on the metrics used to measure effectiveness- placement stability and recurrence of maltreatment. The reason it went from a high functioning system to a struggling system is because of disruption. In 2008 when the economic crisis happened a hiring freeze was implemented, and a new Governor was elected who ran on the platform of ending government waste and holding employees accountable. For those of us working in the system this translated to increased workload, fewer benefits, and being treated with suspicion at every turn. It turned into a fear-based system and many of the long-term, most effective employees left for other states or private industry. This is an example of negative disruption.

It is much easier to disrupt a system in a negative way. Changing a system, and especially rebuilding after years of dysfunction is much harder. Coming up a with a vision and a plan was the easy part for us. Now that we are trying to implement our plans we realize that there are many challenges that we never expected. We also know that the work is worth doing, so even though it is hard and it might take a long time, in order to disrupt systems in a way that withstands the test of time, we have to stick with it for a long, long time.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

When I was in graduate school, I wrote a letter to one of my favorite authors, Chuck Palahniuk. I asked him how he came up with such imaginative out there stories, and he actually answered me (and sent me a beanie baby of my spirit animal and a beaded necklace he made). He said you have to turn off other people’s stories. Basically, unplug so you can hear your own voice. This was before we were all addicted to our smartphones, but he was oddly prescient. Now more than ever it is so important to unplug and get away from the constant streaming of information and misinformation. This advice always comes in particularly handy when I feel stuck on something. The best thing you can do sometimes is walk away, and then the answers start coming.

The other advice that has come in very handy in the last few years came from my mother in law. She said Give your love back where you get it. Publishing a book and pushing new ideas brings with it a lot of feedback, both good and bad. Her advice means to focus on the good, and that is a strategy that has really worked for us. Early on we had people who just fell in love with the book, Anna, Age Eight, and we invested a lot of energy and time in working with those people, and that led us to where we are now with an institute at a university. There were also many people who didn’t like what we were doing, but we have found it is a much better use of our time not to focus much of our energy on those people

This last piece of advice is something I just heard today, but I have been living by different forms of this advice for my entire adult life. I happened to have the opportunity to watch Tom Roberts, the poet who wrote the Great Realisation, do a zoom call with students. One of the students asked how to get started as a poet. He said “If you do nothing, definitely nothing will happen”. This really resonated with me, and it is something I know well, but do need to be reminded of from time to time (see my previous answer about a funny mistake). Writing as an art form is so personal and it is so easy to just write something and never share it. But if you don’t try, nothing will ever happen. I don’t remember what encouraged me to start sending op-eds to newspapers in my early 20’s but I had my own realization back then that if I didn’t share my writing, no one would ever read it. Obvious, I know but I think we get stuck sometimes in the idea that somehow something magical will happen and we’ll get discovered. It doesn’t work like that, you really have to put yourself out there.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Our latest book, Attack of the Three-Headed Hydras came out about a month ago, and we are hoping that it will get people thinking differently about why systems don’t change. We explain how our mounting daily challenges are not uncontrollable acts of nature, they are manmade. We describe the culprits as the “Three-Headed Hydras of Apathy, Envy and Fear.” These hydras are actual people in positions of real power, controlling and destroying our society.

Our hope is that this book will appeal to a wider audience than our previous books, but it still has the same message of emphasizing that real change is possible, and that any person can play a role in making it happen.

I also started a blog in recent weeks (https://katherineortegacourtney.medium.com/). This is some of the most personal writing I’ve shared publicly, and it seems to be really resonating with parents. I think all parents are struggling right now, and we need to stop pretending that everything is going fine. This blog is an opportunity for me to describe how so many of the policies and systems we talk about in our other books directly impact the lives of parents.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I think women in general are held to a higher standard than men. We need to have all aspects of our lives in order including our homes, our appearances, our kids, and our careers. For men, it most cases they tend to only be judged based on their job performance. My writing partner and co-director is a male and it’s interesting to see what happens when we walk into a room together where people don’t know us. They assume he is in charge, and people who don’t know us tend to look to him for answers. Particularly older people. The expectations are different- I feel like as a woman, particularly as a minority woman I have to prove myself in every single room I walk into, because the default expectation for me is pretty low. Whereas for my co-author, there is a certain assumption that he belongs in the room. It is changing slowly and I am very optimistic that someday we will all be held to the same standard, but it takes a concerted effort from everyone to make it happen.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I read Buddha and the Badass during quarantine and it had a profound impact on me. It reinforced everything I was doing and let me know I was on the right path. It is hard in these times where we are so isolated in our own little bubbles. At times I really question whether what we are doing is making any kind of impact. But the message in the book about finding your purpose, and having an intention to your work was exactly what I needed. It also introduced me to MindValley which has really made a huge difference in my life during the wild ride that 2020 has been. It has really kept me grounded and help me keep focus on what is important.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I like to think that we are seeing the beginnings of a movement start here in New Mexico. When we first published Anna, Age Eight it was very rare to hear anything about the impacts and prevalence of childhood trauma, and now it is just part of many conversations, particularly in education. This is a huge start, but not enough. In the seven counties we work with in New Mexico, we are seeing a greater understanding of the need for access to services, the breaking down of silos, and more cohesive communities. For this movement to bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, I would like to see even more community members joining the local coalitions. The more people that understand that so many people start out with an uneven playing field the better. Once people understand that there is a real opportunity gap in which access to services, like fully resourced community schools, can have a huge impact on people’s lives, I think we can start to see real change happen.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite quotes that I came across during a particularly traumatic and difficult time in my life is “sometimes you just do things”. This quote repeatedly appears in the book Eat and Run by Scott Jurek. It really helped me get through one of the hardest times in my life. When things get rough, it is easy to ask why, or become frozen in inaction. I found that this quote would pop into my head when I had something particularly difficult to do. It is a great reminder to keep putting one foot in front of the other, both when you are running and in life in general. Sometimes you just have to do something, even if it’s unpleasant, even if you don’t want to.

How can our readers follow you online?

We are online at www.tenvitalservices.org and on facebook, twitter, and instagram @fighthydras

My Blog is on Medium here: https://katherineortegacourtney.medium.com/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


Female Disruptors: Author Dr Katherine Ortega Courtney On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up You was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Author William Jack Stephens: They Told Me It Was Impossible And I Did It Anyway

Celebrate Every Victory. One of the greatest mistakes I’ve made in life is delaying the celebrations, and in effect, the feelings of accomplishment and self-worth that come from small victories until some future point in time. How many of us have said, “I’ll be happy when I have this much money in the bank?” Or, “I’ll feel like I’ve done something worthy when I have my PhD, or when I’m a Vice President or a CEO.” I’ve known people who lost thirty pounds of weight, but their goal was forty, so they felt like a failure for only losing thirty! Take the time to reflect on every step forward, and feel good about your progress.

As a part of our series about dreamers who ignored the naysayers and did what others said was impossible”, I had the pleasure of interviewing William Jack Stephens.

William Jack Stephens is an author, a former Fortune 100 executive, and a lifestyle transformation advocate whose work is influencing the lives of people all over the world. Through both fiction and non-fiction, he provokes us to consider: what are the things that have real value in our lives, what are we doing to fulfill our dreams, and what would we do if the “unthinkable” happens? He’s now a successful novelist, and guides others through peer advising, speaking engagements, and published works.

Jack did what so many fantasize about … left his career as a top-tier executive in the pharmaceutical industry, sold everything he owned, and moved to the “End of the World” to follow a dream. The ultimate reset. Like a modern-day Henry David Thoreau, he ventured into the Andes Mountains to find out who he really was. He came back as an author and found immediate success. He has published five fictional works since 2017 and his first two novels, Where The Green Star Falls and Andalusian Legacy, have been acquired by a Hollywood production company for adaptation to film or a television series. He is also staying true to his professional roots, and is working on books devoted to Success and Achievement, Happiness, and Personal Transformation.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know youa bit better. Can you tell us your backstory?

In the early 2000’s I was a typically goal-oriented corporate guy, driven to succeed and doing a pretty good job at it. I was an executive vice president with a huge company, I’d been asked to give private industry counsel to the Vice Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led a lobbying team in support of drug benefits for seniors, and I served as an industry representative on a committee that planned disaster relief in the event of a nuclear, biological, or chemical disaster. And like anyone else in the corporate realm, I was working massive hours, traveled continuously away from home, and my health was slowly eroding. It never occurred to me that I wasn’t really happy, but I was achieving what I thought a man in my generation was supposed to strive for.

Then I had my “wakeup call.” Actually, it was more of a hammer strike to the head. My wife and I left for work early one morning, she drove out just ahead of me and onto the freeway and I got stuck at the traffic light. Minutes later, a truck crossed into the oncoming lane and hit my wife’s vehicle head-on. I came up on the accident scene about ninety seconds later. It turned both our worlds completely upside down. My work, responsibilities and obligations, and everything that had dominated my existence before that moment, ceased to exist. My memory of the next several months is sketchy. The ever present smells of ER disinfectant and sickness are burned deeply into my olfactory memory, and the hollow echo of heels striking the linoleum floor as nurses and orderlies passed back and forth down the long hallways. And, a neurosurgeon telling me that I might have to find a facility to care for my quadriplegic wife (don’t worry, this had a happy ending). The bright side was that it gave me time to think about something other than my job. After I’d thought about it long enough, I decided it was time for both of us to follow our dreams.

When my wife was well on the road to recovery, we did what everyone told us we couldn’t do. I walked away from my career, we sold everything we owned and boarded a plane to Buenos Aires, Argentina. At the time, I couldn’t actually say that I knew what I dreamed of doing with my life. By that point, I’d lost touch with who I really was and what I wanted my life to be about. My search took me into the Andes Mountains of Patagonia, at the “End of the World.” The solitude and beauty of living on the mountain healed my soul, and revived a dream I’d long since forgotten, to be a writer. I was determined to do the impossible … to rewrite my own life story.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, I am. We’re all living through one of the most difficult times in human history, and many people are naturally beginning to question whether or not they are truly happy with their lives and how they’ve been living. Over the years, so many people have asked how I successfully navigated my own transformation, that I started writing a short non-fiction series focused on personal transformation and happiness. The first book will be published in early 2021, and the title is: The Four Tenets Of Happiness, Ancient Wisdom For The Enjoyment Of Living. I’m also wrapping up the third book in my International Thriller series, and then I’m scheduled to write another book in the (Where The Green Star Falls) series that was recently acquired by Hollywood.

In your opinion, what do you think makes your company or organization stand out from the crowd?

In my writing, I’ve gone completely against the grain of conventional wisdom, which is, “find one niche genre or a specific theme (for non-fiction) and stick to it.” The common voice tells you to find your tribe and build your brand within that tight space. But I’ve lived literally from one end of the world to the other — from the north in Alaska in my twenties to the far south of Patagonia, Argentina and a dozen places in-between. I’ve experienced innumerable things and interacted with people from many cultures. I’ve stood on the edge of the Arctic sea and heard the cacophony of the icepack breaking under the warm spring sun, and climbed mountains to cast ashes of the dead into the Pacific winds. I’ve been in the company of men who were President and men who wished to be, and sat quietly by campfires in the most remote part of the world with men who owned nothing more than their horses and the clothes they wore. I’ve loved and been loved in return, seen the newly born take their first breath, and the old take their last. I’m a man of many tribes, and many interests, and I have many different stories to tell. How could I compartmentalize my voice to just one?

When I work with executives in a lifestyle advocate capacity, I trend away from typical “coaching.” A traditional coach is someone who dictates actions and plans based on classic models of success. I’m a storyteller, sharing my own experiences and motivations and allowing people to develop their own insights and find their own path. I’ve learned about life by living it. I’ve learned equally from my successes and from miserable failures, and had to pull myself up out of the mud a few times and carry on with my journey. I can vividly remember being in the waiting room as my wife was undergoing a five-hour surgery, my mind suddenly flooded with the reality of my own condition, and whether or not I was actually capable of taking care of her when I struggled most days just to make it through a full day’s work. And all the while thinking, “How did this happen to me? Why didn’t I see this coming?” It’s the sharing of these experiences that may benefit people who are in the midst of reevaluating their own version of the human experience. Even most of my fictional novels carry these messages, so I suppose that’s what I’m here for.

Ok, thank you for that. Id like to jump to the main focus of this interview. Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us? What was your idea? What was the reaction of the naysayers? And how did you overcome that?

There were several, but two particular instances come to mind.

The most personal reflection on achieving the “impossible” is my writing career. I dreamed of being a writer when I was young, and my dream was soundly crushed in my first year of college. My freshman English Literature professor, in front of the class, told me that I should find something else to do because I was absolutely talentless. She offered to give me a passing grade if I just made the effort to show up for class! It took me forty years to prove her wrong, but prove it I did. It’s the perfect example of why you shouldn’t let anyone else dictate what you can or can’t accomplish with your own life. The idea of what’s possible, or impossible, is often a matter of individual perspective. And accomplishing the impossible is sometimes just a matter of tenacity.

The second would be in 2001, four years before my wife’s car accident, I nearly died from a very rare strain of encephalitis I contracted in the wild farmlands of Missouri. I felt a stomach ache on a Monday, and was slipping into a coma on Tuesday. I never fully recovered, and many doctors told me they couldn’t explain or properly treat the lingering condition. When my wife and I first arrived in Argentina, she had to dress me every morning and tie my shoelaces, because my hands were too swollen and contorted to do it myself. I could barely walk. I’d come from the healthcare industry and modern medicine failed me. This was before most doctors were even aware of autoimmune diseases, and they didn’t have any answers except to take stronger pain relievers and inflammation reducing meds. But I didn’t want to just feel better, I wanted to be better. They all told me there was nothing that could be done to reverse the illness, but I refused to give in. I spent every waking hour researching, studying, journaling my food and drink intake, and focusing on the things that improved or worsened my condition. After two years, I had lost one-hundred pounds, was almost completely pain free, and felt twenty years younger. The doctors asked me to write a book about it. But even still, I occasionally run into those who refuse to acknowledge that what I did, reversing a rampant disease with nutritional and lifestyle changes, is possible. They prefer to call it an “unrepeatable miracle.” I think too much rigid institutional education confines them to a space where everything outside of their knowledge-box is simply impossible.

In the end, how were all the naysayers proven wrong? 🙂

My life and health started improving the moment I questioned the validity of everything I had ever been taught. By professors, doctors … everyone. They all believed they were right, given their own training and education, but knowledge about so many things, like health and nutrition, science, and even the capacity of a person to transform their lives, are not constants. They are fluid concepts based on current methods, technological capabilities for analysis, and individual interpretations. They are also heavily influenced by political and economic forces, and charismatic personalities.

It was when I began to doubt what many so-called experts all told me and learned for myself, that I began to prosper. And now I climb mountains, both figurative and literal.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I wrote something many years ago — “We are nothing more than the sum of all our experiences, and everyone who has ever touched our soul.” The more I consider this question, the more difficult it gets to single out a particular person. However, my mother encouraged me to dream grand dreams, and more still, to abandon the demands of social pressure and chase those dreams, even though she was afraid to do the same. She wanted more for me than she was able to do for herself, and she was the one who inspired me later in life to write my first novel.

It must not have been easy to ignore all the naysayers. Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share the story with us?

I was born into a military family and my father was as hard as a coffin nail. Just being raised by my dad was an exercise in resiliency. When I was fifteen, my father had a massive heart attack. He survived against all odds, but he was never able to work again and all of our lives changed along with his. I had to take on responsibilities that were outside the range of a normal high school sophomore, but there was no other choice. I kept up with my obligations, I got a job working after school at night and on weekends, and kept moving towards my goal, which was to graduate from college. When I think about building resiliency, it’s an easy thing to remember the moments of positive reinforcement that keep us going, but I’ve learned to look back on the hardships and embrace them. Every fall, every failure, every bloody nose, left me with a lesson about successful living. The “trials of life” were just as crucial for shaping me into who I am, as every trophy and cheering crowd. The lesson to be learned was always the same … you have to pick yourself up and continue on, or life will go on without you.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 strategies that people can use to harness the sense of tenacity and do what naysayers think is impossible? (Please share a story or an example for each)

  1. Embrace The Power Of Daily Affirmations. Taking a path that few others are willing to take can be frightening, and you should expect that Fear & Doubt will be frequent visitors for a while. During my first two years abroad, after quitting a career path that I’d spent twenty-five years building, there were a lot of days that I stood in front of the mirror in a cold shivering sweat thinking, “What have I done?” But I prepared for those moments before I left, knowing that it would happen. It didn’t stop it from happening, but I was braced for it. My wife and I made a bargain before we made the leap, only one of us was allowed to panic on the same day; the other had to suck it up and be comforting and supportive! I found that starting my day with a ritual of affirmations, spoken out loud to myself over a cup of coffee, keeps me looking forward and positive.
  2. Big Journeys Are Taken One Step At A Time. Achieving a dream, in particular one that others have made you feel is impossible, has to be broken down to the granular level. Begin by defining it in the most detailed terms you can, and by that I mean, learn to interpret what it is you really want to achieve and then the (who, what, when, how) of reaching that goal. This past summer, I climbed a mountain in the Patagonian Andes to fulfill a dream for my mother. I published a short story about the adventure titled: Roses, Rivers, And A Wind To Heaven. It was a visually imposing, impossible looking mountain. I needed intimate knowledge of the approach to the summit, so I found a local guide to counsel me. I needed perfect weather conditions, so I enlisted an expert in the seasonal weather patterns coming off the Pacific Ocean, and I waited over two months for the perfect day. I needed the right equipment, and time to prepare myself. I succeeded because it was a well planned and executed event, with attention to the minutiae. Getting to the top was my goal, but accomplishing a thousand small steps, one at a time, was how I did it.
  3. Invest In Yourself. Don’t ever stop learning to do things … all manner of things. The Greek Philosopher, Aristotle, who lived around three-hundred and fifty years B.C., wrote, “Learning is an ornament in prosperity, a refuge in adversity, and a provision in old age.”
  4. Prepare For Contingencies. Pursuing something that feels like an impossible challenge will never be a simple straight line endeavor. There will be obstacles, challenges, detours, and things you’ve never considered that you’ll face along the way. Life itself is a highly fluid battlefield. So prepare for as many contingency plans as you can think of, and be prepared to switch gears or take a detour. It doesn’t mean you are giving up on your final objective, only that you may have to take a more circuitous route to the top.
  5. Celebrate Every Victory. One of the greatest mistakes I’ve made in life is delaying the celebrations, and in effect, the feelings of accomplishment and self-worth that come from small victories until some future point in time. How many of us have said, “I’ll be happy when I have this much money in the bank?” Or, “I’ll feel like I’ve done something worthy when I have my PhD, or when I’m a Vice President or a CEO.” I’ve known people who lost thirty pounds of weight, but their goal was forty, so they felt like a failure for only losing thirty! Take the time to reflect on every step forward, and feel good about your progress.

What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?

The timeless quote from the French-Algerian poet, Albert Camus — “Au milieu de l’hiver, j’ai découvert en moi un invincible été.” “In the midst of winter, I discovered in me an invincible summer.”

It means that when things feel the most desperate and dark, that’s the place where we find our indomitable spirit. The strength to face the trials of life, and rise superior to them.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would inspire people to focus on relationships, and consider that the people they choose to spend time with will be the most critical decision they ever make. Think of it as team building for a successful You. Surround yourself with people who encourage your strengths, rather than those who enable your weaknesses.

And remember — If you can dream a thing, you can do a thing.

Can our readers follow you on social media?

Yes, please!

www.williamjackstephens.com

https://www.instagram.com/williamjackstephens/

And I welcome connections on LinkedIn, https://www.linkedin.com/in/williamjackstephens/

Thank you for these great stories. We wish you only continued success!


Author William Jack Stephens: They Told Me It Was Impossible And I Did It Anyway was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Women Of The C-Suite: Eva Huston of ‘Duck Creek Technologies’ On The Five Things You Need To…

Women Of The C-Suite: Eva Huston of ‘Duck Creek Technologies’ On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive

Remember that each person has something to contribute of value, and it is your privilege to help them find it.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eva Huston.

As CSO, Eva is responsible for creating and executing on initiatives designed to grow and build value for Duck Creek, spearheading development and execution of corporate strategy. She has extensive experience in market segmentation, pricing and competitive structures, organic and acquisition-driven growth, and numerous other strategic and operational areas. In previous executive roles, Eva served as Chief Financial Officer at Verisk Analytics as well as in various other roles at Verisk, including Treasurer, Chief Knowledge Officer, and Head of Investor Relations, leading the company’s strategic direction from its IPO in 2009 forward as it scaled up. Prior to that, Eva was a Managing Director in telecom, media, and technology investment banking at JP Morgan Chase & Co. She earned a B.S. in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. Eva has deep experience in corporate strategy and SaaS business models and has built her career on connecting customer needs with tailored offerings through a robust understanding of value creation.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I was born in Australia and grew up in Oklahoma, and always had a love for exploration and new ideas. I took an unconventional path in my career, always seeking out new challenges and opportunities to learn. While math was my strongest subject in high school, I studied international politics in college and then took a job with a bank to try the business world. I fell in love with the pace of investment banking and learning about how new and established companies worked in the telecom media and technology sectors. That eventually led me to the corporate world in the data/analytics/tech space where I had the opportunity to own my decisions instead of just making recommendations.

My first corporate roles gave me a broad view of how a corporation works and specific knowledge about how technology and analytics in the insurance industry can bring huge value. After my last role as a CFO, the opportunity to join Duck Creek and build our strategy function is an exciting new creative challenge that I feel well prepared for.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I’ve been with Duck Creek for a little more than two months and I have not been in our offices in person yet and had only met our CEO, Mike, in person (before the pandemic began). I think the most interesting thing is that despite these unusual times, the Duck Creek team and company culture have made me feel fully connected through virtual means.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I remember being in a meeting with a senior banker when I was early in my investment banking career. We were with a client and the senior banker shared an idea that just wouldn’t work structurally, so I spoke up and explained how we would need to adjust the deal. After the meeting, someone pulled me aside and told me I had just contradicted a “very important person” as he also observed that I was correct about the deal structure. It was funny because I never considered that giving good advice to a client could be taken as a challenge to authority. I learned from that to be more sensitive to the way other people may react to you based on various dynamics, and at the same time that you should always believe in your ideas even when they are different from those of higher “rank.”

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My mother has been an incredible force, always advocating for me to be challenged in school and encouraging me to pursue my passions. As a woman raising three children alone after my father’s death, it is amazing she found the time and energy to do all that she did to support us in so many ways.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I believe you have to prepare and then trust yourself. Before an important decision, I remind myself of the work I’ve done that places me in a position for success, and then let go. I find taking your mind off the task as you are going in is the best thing rather than cramming until the last minute. I might listen to music, take a quick run if I can, or work on a small piece of art to help my mind be free to do its best. Then I just tell myself “you got this” and I also always think “what’s the worst that can happen?” Very few things in life have irreversible outcomes.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

I believe that our success comes from a diversity of people, experiences, and ideas. When you have a leadership team that reflects that diversity, it speaks volumes about your company’s values. That empowers every employee to see that diversity and the ideas that come with it is important. If your people understand that they are respected and important, they will let their talents shine and drive the success of the organization.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

I think it starts with being intentional about your goals at a high level and what success looks like. For example, ensuring that any candidate slate is diverse and not accepting a view like “we can’t find someone qualified who is a woman, of color, etc.” Then you also have to get to know individuals by working side by side and listening to what motivates them so you can be an advocate for their freedom to achieve their aspirations and dreams.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

You could say an executive generally has responsibility for a larger part of the organization, be that number of people, or as in the case of my role as Chief Strategy Officer, for working with our team to build and execute on our vision for the future. An executive is responsible for both seeing the bigger picture and serving as the connector between that and the day-to-day work.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

Because an executive is often seen through her or his business role, it might be easy to forget that an executive also has many of the same challenges of all people, like raising children, maintaining personal and family relationships with a limited amount of time, what to make for dinner, etc. We also have other things that motivate us outside of work. For me, in addition to being CSO, board member, wife, and mother of three, I play ice hockey and am a street artist. All of these things are part of who I am. We are all multi-dimensional.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I believe that sometimes women’s behaviors are interpreted differently than men’s due to cultural expectations. For example, I have been told when I state an opinion strongly that I am aggressive or that I don’t need to be angry. The same approach would often be accepted or even rewarded by a man. So we need to both be aware of these norms and at the same time stay true to ourselves and still do our jobs well! It can be tiring, yet I always try to look at it as an opportunity to move the world to a new way of seeing women in the work world.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I knew we had a huge opportunity to grow and to serve our customers, but I had no idea how many opportunities there would be that connected into the excellence of our core P&C systems.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

I believe to be an executive means to be a leader, and a leader is someone who aspires to make a difference in the world beyond just what they can contribute as an individual. To be a successful leader, you need to be motivated internally, not by title or what others will think of you but because you are making your people, your company, and your world better. I would say that if you are passionate about what you are doing and want to find more people to join you in pursuing that passion, go for it!

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Remember that each person has something to contribute of value, and it is your privilege to help them find it.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I work to give to my community in multiple ways. I donate money to support good causes because I am able. I also volunteer my time; in particular, I do kitchen work for God’s Love We Deliver (https://www.glwd.org/ ), an organization that delivers fresh meals to those with medical conditions who are unable to cook for themselves. Finally, I work to be a presence in my community, working with groups who support my children’s passions like hockey and chess, and also by contributing positivity to NYC through street art.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

I think there is only one thing to know, be yourself. If you do that and are motivated from the heart, everything else will work itself out.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Inspiring those to leadership who might otherwise be overlooked. It would really be a grassroots movement taken up by those who have the ability to make a difference.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”- Albert Einstein

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Two people come to mind, David Epstein (author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World) and Manon Rhéaume, the first woman to play in any North American professional sports leagues. I think they both would have amazing perspectives to share on how we blend the breadth of life with the specifics of the world.


Women Of The C-Suite: Eva Huston of ‘Duck Creek Technologies’ On The Five Things You Need To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.